Doctors with a Severe Lack of Patience
Byline: GEORGINA BROWN
Hampstead Theatre, London 2hrs 15mins (including interval) ****
Almeida Theatre, London 2hrs (including interval) ****
The unmistakable smell of hospitals, that distinctive mix of disinfectant and dread, hits you as you take your seat for Tiger Country. Nina Raine's funny, fast new play takes the pulse of the doctors in an A & E department of a London hospital and finds their levels of stress alarmingly high and their cynicism rising as they advance up the corporate ladder.
No surprises there. Diagnoses and decisions have to be made super-quickly, often by young, relatively inexperienced and exhausted medics. Mistakes will be made, of course, and unnecessary tragedies might or might not be averted, but even without the inevitable human error, not every life can be saved.
When a young doctor cannot restore the heartbeat of a woman her own age, she is suddenly forced to confront her own mortality and her impotence. This is the doctor's dilemma: they are there to care, but not too much. It's a near-impossible balancing act.
Played out on a wide vinyl floor between two banks of seats, the action teems with frantic but purposeful staff dressed strictly according to their status in the hospital: overalls, light blue scrubs, navy nurses' uniforms or green theatre-gowns.
Raine, whose direction is as fluent and well-modulated as her writing, weaves the various strands of the narrative with terrific skill. Vashti, a driven, aggressive female Indian urologist, is removing a testicle. Emily, the sensitive, conscientious 24-year-old new senior house officer, is observing.
The jungle of veins and arteries in which surgeons must operate is called tiger country, and when Vashti's patient begins to bleed heavily, the consultant sweeps in to deal with the situation. Emily's first task is to scratch his nose.
The rigid hierarchy, racism and sexism we see are all pretty shocking.'Nurses aren't sexy any more. They're all Filipinos now. Physios are the new nurses,' says one male doctor. Vashti claims that the 'fat, vacuous black nurses' won't obey her because she's neither white nor male.
A much more sympathetic doctor, John, is treating a patient well known to all the staff for his appearance in a medical soap opera on television. John later finds himself on the receiving end of bad news following the biopsy of a lump in his neck.
Vashti's professional composure slips when she discovers her aunt's operation has been seriously, possibly fatally, botched by one of her colleagues. In one of the most moving scenes, Vashti has to tell a patient that nothing more can be done.
It's a brilliantly well researched and observed piece, far more probing and plausible than any television soap opera but also more of a workplace drama than the state-ofthe-nation play Raine will doubtless one day write. …